The Role of Public Schools in Sexual Education
Should sexual education be taught in public schools? There have been several debates over this topic. The media has sensationalized sex and desensitized our youth from the consequences that can occur from engaging in sexual activity. Gossip such as 'who had sex with who over the weekend or at the latest party’ are the current norm in high schools, middle schools, and in some cases, even elementary schools. With the rise of sexually transmitted diseases and the fact that more adolescents are becoming sexually active, sexual education is imperative and the issue needs to be properly addressed and not ignored. Adolescents not only need to make decisions regarding their sexuality but also need to be aware of the repercussions that might go along with the decisions they choose. The role of our public education system should be to implement sexual education programs that provide students with information on how to protect themselves if they choose to become sexually active but also offer students the opportunity to ask questions and get facts, without the embarrassment of talking with their own parents or peers.
Sex education in public schools should involve all aspects of protective measures regarding sex and our youth, including contraceptives as well as abstinence. No matter how abstinence is emphasized, there will always be young people who choose to be sexually active. Kids are becoming more sexually active at an earlier age. Sixty-six percent of high school students in America have done it by their senior year (Masland n.d.). Schools should take an active role to educate and inform students about the risks involved in becoming sexually active and provide resources for students who choose to be.
Opponents maintain that teaching sexual education in schools compromises the moral beliefs of young adolescents by not advocating or solely teaching abstinence. They claim that having sexual education in schools promotes students to engage in sexual activity leading to sexual diseases and teenage pregnancy. In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, it was concluded that “adolescents who received comprehensive sex education had a lower risk of pregnancy than adolescents who received abstinence-only or no sex education” (Kohler et al. 344 – 351). Logically, these outcomes would have it seem that the misrepresentation of information provided to students about forms of contraception other than abstinence leaves them improperly informed about safe sexual activity should they engage in premarital sex. The implementation of sexual education programs promoting strictly abstinence may produce negative physical effects in students unaware of the many facets of sexual activity, but abstinence-only programs cause psychological distress among them as well. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) has it that abstinence-only-until marriage programs “promote marriage as the only acceptable family structure; ostracize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth; stigmatize youth who have been sexually abused; denies information to sexually active youth and HIV-positive youth; and, ensure that young people who have already engaged in sexual activity or those living in ‘nontraditional’ households are presented with fear- and shame-based messages” (SIECUS n.d.).
In contrast, the effectiveness of the use of condoms to avoid pregnancy is thought to be exceptionally high with researchers stating the following: “in one year with perfect use (meaning couples use condoms consistently and correctly at every act of sex), 98 percent of women relying on male condoms will remain pregnancy free” (Alford 2005). Not to mention, “a number of carefully conducted studies, employing rigorous methods and measures, have demonstrated that consistent condom use is highly effective in preventing HIV transmission [according to the CDC]” (Alford 2005). Proponents argue that sexual education should be taught in public school because it informs about sexual diseases, discourages teenage pregnancy and sexual activity. Proponents also believe sexual education is needed in public school in case of parental absence and ultimately gives our youth the notion of what is right and what is wrong.
The fact is that teaching sexual education in schools does not encourage students to have sex. According to According to Bleakley (2006), in a survey conducted, only about 17% of the respondents answered that sex education does encourage them to do “it” and that the remaining eighty three percent strongly disagreed. Evidence supports that sexual education prevents teenage pregnancy teenage pregnancy and the transmission of sexual diseases. Sexual education is essential to ensure that our youth are at a lower risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and/or becoming pregnant. Public schools can be the means to prevent these things from happening by exposing students to all avenues of sexual precautions, including abstinence.
In cases where the parents are not able or available to teach their children about sex, our public education system should step in so that our youth learn about sex from educated and responsible adults instead of social media or peers (Masland n.d.). There will always be peer pressure and nowadays students have unlimited access online and in the media to inappropriate sexual materials. By providing education in schools, students can be given tools and coping methods to deal with peer pressure. It is better for our youth to be informed as early as possible because they will still know about it when they grow up as they will be more exposed to it through their peers and the media (Cooper n.d.). Still, opponents claim that sexual education in schools just teaches students how sexual intercourse is done but in actuality sexual education teaches students about the dangers and consequences of having sex at a young age. The theoretical benefits of abstinence are readily apparent and the overall case of promoting abstinence can be made, it is not the most effective approach in today’s society. While abstinence is the only certain way to be completely protected from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, an article published in the Journal of Adolescent Health says it best: “abstinence as a sole option for adolescents is scientifically and ethically problematic” (Santelli et al. 72 – 81). SIECUS brings into focus a study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released on April 23, 2007, in which researchers “found no evidence that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs increased rates of sexual abstinence.” Alarmingly, as noted in the study, the 1,209 participating students “in the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs had a similar number of sexual partners as their peers not in the programs [848 of them], as well as a similar age of first sex.”
By encompassing all aspects of sex education, protection, and prevention, public schools can prepare students to make informed decisions whether to become sexually active or not. By educating them about the consequences of having sex when they are not ready, such as emotional or mental depression, which can lead to suicide, students can learn the importance of such a decision. Sex education in schools is not limited to teaching healthy sexual behavior but can also give resources, such as clinics or doctors, to students who may not know where to go if they want to protect themselves or if they do in fact have a sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy. Many times, students are hesitant to discuss sex with their parents or family and having the option to speak with a teacher or doctor is a positive or safer alternative for them.
In conclusion, sexual education should be taught in public schools because it is beneficial to promote healthy sexual behavior and protection than ignoring the reality that our youth is engaging in sexual activity. Since adolescents cannot be stopped from being sexually active, society should support sex education in schools, even as early as elementary school. It is also the only education for those whose parents are absent. Through sexual education, students will be able to learn facts and the risks about sex. It is essential that our society make the tools available to our youth that are needed to handle the inevitable choices they are faced with as they grow into healthy, informed adults who understand the implications of having sex before marriage and these tools can be accessible via sexual education programs in schools.
Alford, Sue. "Condom Effectiveness." Advocates for Youth. N.p., Sept. 2005. Web. 6 June 2014. Bleakley, A. (2006). Public Opinion on Sex Education in US Schools. Retrieved June 6, 2014 from http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/160/11/1151.pdf Cooper, M. (n.d.) Sex Education in Schools. Retrieved June 6, 2014 from http://www.helium.com/items/66294-sex-education-in-schools Kohler, Pamela K., R.N., M.P.H., Lisa E. Manhart, Ph.D, and William E. Lafferty, MD. "Abstinence-Only and Comprehensive Sex Education and the Initiation of Sexual Activity and Teen Pregnancy." Journal of Adolescent Health 42.4 (2008): 344-51. Journal of Adolescent Health. 31 Jan. 2008. Web. 6 June 2014. Masland, M. (n.d.) Carnal knowledge: The sex ed debate. Retrieved June 6, 2014 from http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3071001/539480.asp Santelli, John, MD., M.P.H., Mary A. Ott, MD., Maureen Lyon, Ph.D, Jennifer Rogers, M.P.H., Daniel Summers, MD., and Rebecca Schleifer, J.D., M.P.H. "Abstinence and Abstinence-only Education: A Review of U.S. Policies and Programs." Journal of Adolescent Health 38.1 (2006): 72-81. Journal of Adolescent Health. Web. 6 June 2014. "What the Research Says… Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs." SIECUS. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, n.d. Web. 6 June 2014.